Steve Zipay is an award-winning journalist who has covered events from Super Bowls to World Series and issues
Time to sweep out the ashes from a season that once burned so brightly.
Moving into the summer and beyond, the Rangers' front office must make some tough personnel choices but cannot totally reshape the roster.
Even if Glen Sather & Co. wanted to shake things up after a very good run that fell a victory short of the Stanley Cup Final, financial restrictions remain: the salary cap, which is expected to increase by only about $2 million, existing long-term deals and the need to extend the contracts of several young restricted free agents.
So the offseason will bring surgical strikes rather than a teardown. Let's look at the three segments:
Henrik Lundqvist, 33, isn't going anywhere. Pencil him in for another 65 to 68 starts next season. Lundqvist is one of seven players with lengthy no-move/no-trade contracts.
The question is the future of Cam Talbot, who went 16-4-3 when Lundqvist was sidelined with a neck injury. Without Talbot, the Rangers would not have finished with the most points in the NHL. Talbot, who will earn $1.45 million next season and then can become an unrestricted free agent who will command a sizable raise, could be traded to a club in need of a No. 1 goaltender, perhaps Dallas.
But the Rangers have to weigh the risks of moving him at the June draft or keeping him and finding a suitor at the trade deadline next March.
The youngsters in the system are untested: Mackenzie Skapski, Brandon Halverson and Igor Shestyorkin.
Captain Ryan McDonagh is here to stay. So are Marc Staal, who signed a long-term deal worth $5.7 million per season, and Dan Girardi, similarly locked up with a no-trade clause. Dan Boyle, 39, is due $4.5 million in the final year of his deal and would be almost impossible to move. Keith Yandle, acquired from Arizona on March 1, is a bargain at $2.65 million because the Coyotes are paying the other half of his contract.
So the only possible strategy would be to gauge interest in Kevin Klein, who, at $2.9 million per over the next three years, might attract some suitors, possibly Edmonton. But replacing a righthanded potential top-four blueliner wouldn't be easy. Matt Hunwick, an unrestricted free agent, probably will move on.
Top defense prospect Brady Skjei (pronounced "Shea"), who joined the Wolf Pack from the University of Minnesota and played 15 postseason games, will get a long look in training camp but likely will need some more time in the AHL.
A little flexibility here.
Derick Brassard, Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello, all with long-term deals, and Dominic Moore, with one year remaining, have some type of no-move or no-trade clauses.
The key decision concerns unrestricted free agent Martin St. Louis, 40, who slowed down late in the season and the playoffs and should be welcomed back only under a greatly reduced one-year contract with performance and games-played bonuses. St. Louis, who lives in Greenwich, Connecticut, wants to remain in the area, and a low-cost agreement could be reached.
Stepan, a restricted free-agent center with arbitration rights, probably will command $6 million per season, given his age (25 on June 18) and talent. He was the most consistent Ranger offensively in the playoffs. The Rangers will make room for him by clearing space. Two possibilities: Tanner Glass ($1.45 million for the next two seasons) or speedy Carl Hagelin (another RFA with arbitration rights but a valuable chip).
Kevin Hayes, Jesper Fast and J.T. Miller, each of whom raised his play this season, are not expensive and have upside. Figure Hayes is a lock, as well as RFAs Fast and Miller. And you can't give up on Chris Kreider. Unrestricted free agent James Sheppard likely will not be back. Swedish forward Oscar Lindberg (28-28-56,) who led Hartford in shots on goal and was 3-13-16 in 15 AHL playoff games, will get a long look at camp.
One customary avenue to add talent is through first-round draft picks, but the Rangers would need to trade for one. This year's first-rounder went to Tampa Bay in the St. Louis-Ryan Callahan trade. Next year's first-rounder went to Arizona in the Yandle swap.
So the Rangers' core will be intact. But with the Metropolitan Division and many Eastern Conference teams getting stronger, the Blueshirts must make some shrewd moves to be back in Cup contention next season.